UM solar car nearing the finish line in Sunrayce '93

June 26, 1993|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,Staff Writer

After a week of thunderstorms, cloudy skies and sweltering temperatures, the University of Maryland's solar car was expected today to roll across the finish line of a seven-day,

1,100-mile race across the Midwest.

While the Maryland team's "Pride of Maryland II" isn't likely to win the U.S. Department of Energy's "Sunrayce '93," it was sixth overall yesterday and seems likely to finish near the top of the 34-car field.

The final, 91-mile stage of the race was set to begin at 9 a.m. (10 EDT) today in the town of Albert Lea, Minn. The fastest cars were expected to roll into Minneapolis, 91 miles down the road, sometime after 11 a.m. (noon EDT).

The Pride II finished fourth in yesterday's leg of the race, a 176-mile -- from Des Moines to Albert Lea. It was the first sunny day, and the College Park team's best finish so far.

"I think we showed that we can keep up with the leaders of the pack in good, sunny conditions," said Bob Radicevich, 23, of Bowie, a senior engineering major and one of Pride II's two drivers.

Unlike some of the other vehicles, the Pride II is designed to run most efficiently under sunny skies. (Sunshine was forecast for today in Minnesota.)

Mostly, though, it's been soggy, cloudy and miserable since the racers rolled out of Arlington, Texas, on Sunday morning.

On Tuesday, a shortage of sunshine allowed only nine of the 34 cars to reach the Fort Scott, Neb., finish line before 6:30 p.m., when race officials halt the competition each evening.

Stragglers are placed in trailers and driven to the finish, then assessed a 4-minute penalty for each mile they are carted.

On Wednesday, rain slowed most cars to a crawl. Only six cars finished the 158 miles by 6:30 p.m. In the middle of the race, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell's team won permission from Sunrayce officials to drill a hole in their car and drain the rainwater.

On Thursday, thunderstorms raked the racers. Only two cars finished by the evening deadline. Approaching Des Moines, the University of Maryland team had to put their car in a trailer for the first time.

"It really placed a strain on both the car and the team," said Christopher Lanser, the team spokesman. "We run very slow. It makes for a very long and tedious day."

During sunny stretches, the Pride II has buzzed along at speeds up to 48 mph. But in the rain, it has slowed to just a few miles per hour.

"At one point we were watching a butterfly that was going faster than our car," Mr. Lanser said.

Everyone was affected by the weather. But the University of Minnesota's team seemed plagued by mishaps, said Sunrayce '93 spokesman Mark Fitzgerald.

A team van was rear-ended by a pickup truck. The same van rear-ended the tractor-trailer used to carry the team's solar car, destroying the van. And a Minnesota team member fell off the van and broke an arm.

By the end of racing Friday, the Pride II was 15 hours, 43 minutes and 7 seconds behind the leader, a car built by engineering students at the University of Michigan.

The second through fifth-place teams were, in order; California Polytechnic State University at Pomona, George Washington University, California State University at Los Angeles and Stanford University.

Mr. Lanser said yesterday that, given the lead built up by the top cars, the best the Pride II can do is finish in fifth place.

"We'll see how difficult that's going to be," he said. "I don't think it's a question of winning or losing at this point, it's more of a competition against ourselves."

Mr. Radicevich predicted that, whatever the final standings, Pride II will end the week with a flourish. "We're going to blow into the finish line," he said.

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